Given the state of malnutrition in the state, a Jammu manufacturer piloted fortified wheat flour. In this piece, Shubam Puri, one of the director’s of the company, explains why social relevance is a key ingredient to a better business
Jammu and Kashmir has a very high burden of malnutrition – 33 per cent of our children are stunted, around 18 per cent are thinner for their age and 24 per cent are undernourished. The malnutrition does not escape adult population as 21 per cent women and 20 per cent men in J&K have a low Body Mass Index – they are thinner than what they should be to lead a healthy and active life.
Malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are the outcome of low intake of vitamins and minerals, the micronutrients. This situation leads to high incidence of related diseases, and Anemia is the most prominent one, especially in female population.
Studies have revealed that more than 68 per cent of children (6-36 months of age), almost 59 per cent of children below 5 years, 54 per cent of women in their reproductive age, 56 per cent pregnant women and 18 per cent of men in J&K suffer from Anemia.
Nutrition and development are closely related and interdependent. Good nutrition is crucial across the life cycle, to avert irreversible cumulative growth and development deficit that compromise maternal and child health and survival, and achievement of optimal learning outcomes in education.
The other fact that we live with is that the food basket in most households in our state across the economic spectrum is unplanned and unscientific. While tradition and taste are the moving factors in the upper layer of our population, for the poorer households the basket is further limited by the economic considerations. The basket loaded with limited cereals, occasional inclusion of vegetable and almost very little fruit does not fulfill nutritional requirements. It results in nutritional deficiencies of micronutrients. The malnutrition is the major contributor to diet-related non-communicable degenerative diseases like diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and cancer.
This is where the concept of improving the quality of foods come into play and fortification is the globally accepted method to help humans improve their health. It is even used to eradicate diseases. Take for instance the iodization of the common salt which has led to phenomenal changes.
Fortification of foods by adding minerals and vitamins is the most effective method of reaching vitamins and minerals to all the population groups. It presents a tremendous opportunity towards improving the micronutrient status of populations and reducing dietary deficiencies across population groups.
The fortification technology is a proven one. Developed countries have been fortifying foods for the past 50 years. The main responsibility for appropriate fortification has to be shouldered by the industry for processing and by the government for laying down the standards and for regulatory monitoring. Though India was a late entrant to this, it surely is making all efforts to bridge the historic deficit.
This is the philosophy for what we have done. We started fortification of wheat flour with vitamins and minerals and it offers a simple and effective method to add vital micronutrients like Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 to the diet of the general population. It effectively tackles common and almost ubiquitous problem of Anemia. Presently, more than 130 countries in the world are fortifying wheat flour, and amongst these, wheat flour fortification is mandated by law in 75 countries.
Consumption of Aata (wheat flour) fortified with addition of Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12, helps in, improving health and immunity level of children as also their mental development and school performance. In adults, it improves overall health, nutritional status, working capacity and in-comes thereby reducing the burden of health care costs, and improving the working capacity.
Low reach of safe drinking water at the household level, poor hygiene and also the poor personal and environmental sanitation are other factors that impact good health and nutrition because these affect the nutrient absorption, lower immunity, and add to the disease burden with even higher levels of malnutrition, including micronutrient malnutrition.
Malnutrition, however, transcends all barriers though the poorest are affected the most. Anemia due to micronutrient malnutrition cuts across all socio-economic groups, affecting all.
(Shubam Puri is Director Nav Bharat Flour Mills that introduced fortified P-Mark Chaki Aata under the brand name Vitamin+.)